Smart Growth Needs Leadership

Smart Growth Needs Leadership

There’s a lot of discussion downtown about our area’s obligation to grow smartly and adapt to the need for intensification. It’s truly a must as well as a certainty. There is no doubt that intensification, as a concept, is being dissected and interpreted by cities as a learning process and with all learning or new ideas, there are trends in application.

Once such trend or interpretation pressure is vertical growth. Cities in the GTA have been handed an expectation from the Province to grow smartly within their boundaries to limit urban sprawl, meaning they must work toward achieving minimum and maximum densities of housing units per hectare. This is an average and the Province granted the cities the right to determine how to reach those density goals by designating or planning density targets for each area within the city. This was called the Official Plan.

It’s in working to achieve these densities that the trends develop. Some cities aim for averages across broad areas, and some set highs and lows. What smart cities don’t do is allow the land development and application process to determine heights and densities.

In the case of Burlington Downtown, the city zoned the core to be a medium density area. It presented an Official Plan for the area to be a mixed use corridor of 4 stories maximum with a provision for 8 and where the city would encourage development to build a balance of professional, retail, residential and cultural properties. This was smart planning toward smart growth and Burlington wasn’t alone in this as many city planners had arrived at this smart way of achieving density while fostering a healthy growing community by studying other cities around North America and the world.

Read a quick article on the subject: For Smart Growth, not all density is created equal

Unfortunately, over time and the change of councils, the city has begun to chase a different, short sighted trend. Developer pressure and the politicization of intensification has lead to a hesitance to follow their previous council’s decision to follow the smart medium density trend and are now showing signs of following a different trend downtown — Over-scaled building. And, downtown seems the target to dump massive scale buildings to absorb the city’s density obligations.

Building large scale is an easy sell to cities because it achieves density quickly and offers an easy to digest human, energy and city servicing efficiency — part of intensification’s goals.

However what this trend doesn’t reveal until too late is that medium scale is a critical element in creating vibrant smart growth areas. Many successful downtowns follow rules of 4 to 8 stories with great success toward cultural vibrancy and a healthy development climate. Studies show that medium density, when well considered, can deliver density targets and high efficiencies while continuing to strengthen community and appeal.

Building over-scale makes people feel uncomfortable leading to avoidance. Think about your favourite downtowns that you’ve visited around the world or near to home. Likely these places have medium scale — max 4 to 8 stories for the majority with the occasional high-rise.

Building over-scale is also considered to surpass efficiency thresholds, suffering diminishing returns. Lastly building over-scale with too many residential units, squeezes out mixed use builds resulting in a mono-culture that doesn’t support a variety of businesses and cultural interests. Interests and uses that would normally lead to attracting larger numbers of visitors and shoppers.

So basically, build big, build too much residential and you loose the interest and attractiveness to visitors and community.

So how do we achieve smart growth? We need Leadership because:

– Leadership stands strong and demands smart building mix and density

– mix leads to an attractive variety of business and cultural offering for many

– many leads to more visitors

– scale leads to happier visitors

– happy visitors stay, shop and frequent more

– frequent visitors bring cash-flow

– cash-flow builds business and supports stronger business owners and employees

– strong business owners and employees build culture and community

– strong healthy communities attract like businesses

– and more building toward a healthier local economy

Thursday October 9th at 7pm — attend the public meeting about the proposed 28 Story Building at 374 Martha Street, and ask your city council to follow the Official Plan and demand smart growth.

Date: Thursday October 9, 2014
Time: 7:00 – 9:00pm
Place: Art Gallery of Burlington, Shoreline Room
1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington